When combing through the list of books I’ve read this year, these five really lingered, got under my skin, stuck in my head. . .and stayed there. If you haven’t read any of these, you should as well as the other books I’ve reviewed on this site (check archives). But, alas, these are my favorites.
- Dear American Airlines, Jonathan Miles. Bennie Ford, a failed poet turned translator, gets stuck at the airport while on his way to his estranged daughter’s lesbian wedding. An acerbic, heartbreakingly unflinching autobiographical letter to (yup!) American Airlines follows. This inventive play on the traditional novel form is howlingly funny, dangerously insightful, and, my favorite, sneakily soulful.
- The Perfect Son, Barbara Claypole White. After his wife and super-mom Ella is hospitalized indefinitely by a sudden heart attack, Felix Fitzwilliam, an OCD financial geek with zero patience, must, for the first time in his seventeen years as a father, become a real parent to their son Harry, who, aside from having a high IQ and a perfect SAT score, suffers from Tourette’s Syndrome. This one was a pure reading pleasure, mostly because of the careful and touching portrayal of all the characters, especially Harry. The difficult relationship between the father and son really resonated with me, and I was moved by the surprising, yet inevitable ending of the novel.
- The Land of Steady Habits, Ted Thompson. Anders Hill, an empty-nester living in Connecticut, blows up his cushy life by divorcing his wife and opting for a small condo instead. Hilarity–and humility–ensues. Maybe even some personal growth. This book is a modern day Rabbit, Run, but, in my opinion, funnier.
- Outline, Rachel Cusk. This one, more than any other book I read this year, snuck up on me. A friend recommended it to me, I read the synopsis and wasn’t really excited. I read it, anyway, and wow. . .Essentially, it’s about a woman flying to Greece to teach a creative writing class. That’s it. But really, it’s about observation, listening–really listening. It’s also a master class in storytelling as the protagonist reveals next to nothing about herself, and yet I was riveted the whole time. Not a great description, I know, and yes, some readers–namely, impatient ones–will give up within a page or two, but if you read on, if you think about what you’re reading, you will be rewarded.
- Rumrunners, Eric Beetner. The plot: Webb McGraw, an aging rumrunner, is given a lucrative pick-up-and-drop-off gig by Hugh Stanley, who presides over a criminal empire “running anything and everything illegal.” Used to driving American muscle cars, McGraw enlists the help of a long-haul trucker to drive the eighteen-wheeler, which, of course, turns out to be a huge mistake. McGraw gets highjacked, barely escaping with his hide in tack, but now he’s faced with a dilemma: run and hide, or go back to Hugh Stanley and admit failure? This is a well-written pot boiler brimming with good dialogue, memorable characters, and thrills on every page.